Freedom and service took on a new dimension for some Catholics on July 4.
Guests of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s downtown dining room were greeted on Independence Day by Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares and staff from the Diocese of Phoenix, including Catholic Charities Community Services and members of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Scottsdale.
Bishop Nevares donned a blue St. Vincent de Paul apron and handed trays of food to diners.
“Serving the poor is one of the principal reasons Jesus Christ founded the Church,” Bishop Nevares told The Catholic Sun.
“We are going to be judged on how we treated the least of our brothers and sisters,” he said. “From the very beginning of our Catholic Church, that has been our mission, that has been our purpose, to preach the Gospel and to show the Gospel by our charitable deeds.”
Dennis Naughton, general counsel for the Phoenix Diocese, was on hand with his 10-year-old son to serve a meal of orange chicken, rice and green beans to the area’s struggling residents.
“One of the freedoms we are celebrating is the freedom to serve, the freedom to go out there and show our faith, to serve those in need, and to show the world that Catholic means serving our country,” Naughton said. “What better way to celebrate those freedoms than to come here and help those who are less fortunate?” The freedom to serve the homeless, poor and struggling was the focus of this year’s “Fortnight for Freedom,” called by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and held June 22-July 4.
In the Diocese of Phoenix, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted kicked off the two-week event with Mass at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral June 22, telling those gathered that freedom is a gift that “Jesus won for us on the cross” and that freedom stands at the heart of the Christian message.
Bishop Olmsted’s homily, broadcast live on AZ-TV 7 during the weekly Sunday Mass from the cathedral, highlighted the close connection between freedom and serving the poor.
“This freedom to serve others, especially the most poor and vulnerable, is what is more directly under attack by cultural and political forces today,” Bishop Olmsted said.
Religious liberty in America, he said, was in danger. He cited the problematic aspects of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate requiring business owners to provide contraceptives in violation of their religious beliefs.
A week later, on June 30, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that individuals do not lose their religious freedom when they open a business.
Ron Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Catholic Conference, the policy arm of the Catholic Church in Arizona, applauded the decision.
The ruling showed that the two families involved cannot be forced by the government to pay “draconian fines just because they decide to do their business under the form of a corporation,” Johnson said.
The “Fortnight for Freedom” concluded July 4 with a Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. In Phoenix, the faithful gathered for a Mass at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral celebrated by Bishop Nevares. Many stayed afterward to pray the rosary.